Remember that airline ad that made you miss your mum instantly, or that beverage commercial that gave you chills? Neither do I. But I am positive that you have a favourite funny creative piece or a strategically placed ad, both of which passed through the hands of an agency, in one way or another. Agencies have always been at the heart of the greatest and most memorable campaigns the world has ever seen.
But it used to be easier to be an agency, right? Create an ad and connect traditional advertisers with traditional media. That was it. Nowadays agencies are expected to produce top notch creative material, lure consumers through the entire brand funnel, have the hottest digital influencers on speed dial, navigate hundreds (if not thousands) of different digital media providers, secure viewability, ensure brand safety, negotiate the best media deals, find a unicorn… It’s a never-ending list of what is required from agencies today. And all of that for increasingly eroding fees.
Now, let’s try and put this into perspective: agencies can choose to try and be all things to all men or to enable different players by providing them with what agencies do best: strategy and planning.
Creative and media strategizing is the agencies’ unique selling point. It is an axis of the ad industry as well. Campaigns need to be built on a consumer insight, an emotional touch and the right data sets if they are to sell. Only agencies have the necessary experience, accumulated over years, to make you cry while watching a Christmas commercial for your nearby airport. And no, algorithms and machines cannot do it all. It takes a human touch; an agency touch to make a campaign peak.
Agencies should be the leaders of the ad chain, connecting industry players and enabling successful campaigns. I know you’re thinking agencies should already been doing this, that it’s their role. And you’re right. It is their role. But they need to get better at it. Better yet, they need to be more confident and disruptive in their role. Omnicom had the right idea when they created a McDonald’s dedicated unit by providing an agency impetus to a much larger team consisting of Google and Facebook techies, New York Times content writers and others. We are yet to see how this co-operation will function, but it’s an admirable try.
Agencies need to embrace the fact that they hold very profound knowledge and diverse skills and should free themselves from the currency of fear by acting confidently on it. You know how they say you are appreciated by others, only to the extent that you appreciate yourself? Clients hold the wallet, but it’s about time for agencies to realise that they hold the knowledge.
Obviously, it’s not easy. Agencies need to disrupt, or be disrupted. (I know…you hear this cliché all the time. But it’s true!). If they continue being enablers of the wider industry, they need to be at the wellhead of innovations and spot them early on.
With confidence and more forward thinking, agencies can become what they are supposed to be: thought leaders of the ad industry.